Welcome to the reciprocating air compressor section of my air compressor buying guide. If you are still not sure whether a reciprocating compressor is the right choice for you, be sure to start at the air compressor buying guide main page.

Are you looking for a rotary screw compressor? Visit my rotary screw compressor buying guide instead.

Buy a reciprocating air compressor

There are a lot of different types of reciprocating compressors, and even more sites offering them for sale. Want to be sure you buy the right air compressor, the air compressor that is right for you and your situation? Don’t worry, I am here to help you.

In this buying guide I will teach you:

  • What the right type of reciprocating compressor is for you (you know the difference, right?)
  • What the right size air compressor is for you.
  • How to save money on your air compressor purchase.
  • What options you need and don’t need
  • The most common mistakes when buying a reciprocating air compressor.

Who needs a reciprocating air compressors anyway?

Reciprocating air compressors are perfect for:

  • Workshops
  • Garages
  • Do-It-Yourself /at home
  • Small businesses
  • Construction work (nailers etc)

Do you need lot’s of compressed air? A rotary screw compressor might be a better option for you.

Reciprocating air compressor types

There are basically three types of reciprocating air compressors:

  • Single-stage units
  • Two (or multi-) stage units
  • Duplex units

Besides the type of air compressor, we can make a distinction in oil-free and oil-flooded air compressors, and between electric and gas-driven reciprocating compressors.

Single-stage units

Single stage units have only piston/cylinder. Air is compressed in 1 stage, from ambient pressure to working pressure.

Single-stage compressor are cheaper and simpler in design. They go up to about 20 CFM (cubic feet per minute) capacity. And go up to 140 psi  (10 bar) pressure.

Single stage compressors are mostly used for home use or light commercial use. However, for commercial use, I’d recommend a two-stage air compressor.

Want more info? Go to my single stage reciprocating air compressors buying guide.

Two stage units

Two stage (or double stage) units have two pistons/cylinders. There is a low-pressure cylinder and a high-pressure cylinder. The low pressure pumps up to about half of the end pressure. The air is cooled and then compressed further by the second high-pressure cylinder.

Two stage units have more capacity and an higher pressure. Capacity goes up to 50 CFM (cubic feet per minute) and pressure up to 175 psi (12 bar).

Very suitable for commercial / industrial use. Perfect for workshops, automotive shops, and other industrial uses.

Want more info? Go to my two stage reciprocating air compressors buying guide.

Duplex units

Duplex units are basically just two separate compressors installed on one tank. Usually these are single-stage units.

The capacity goes up to about 70 cfm (cubic feet per minute) and the pressure up to 175 psi (12 bar).

The difference with two stage units? Duplex units have a bigger capacity, two stage compressors have an higher pressure.

One advantage of duplex units is that when one compressor breaks down, you always have the other compressor to work with (same pressure, but at half the capacity).

Oil-free vs oil-flooded

Most people won’t need an oil-free compressor. You only need an oil-free compressor for jobs like spray-painting or breathing-air.

Oil-free compressors are more expensive, require more maintenance and make more noise. If you don’t really need 100% oil-free air (most don’t), don’t bother.

Electric vs gas-driven

With a gas-driven air compressor you can have compressed air anywhere. These are ideal for contract workers and work on-site where there is no electrical power.

Compressor-wise, they come with the same type of compressors pumps as electric compressors: there are single stage, dual stage and duplex untis available with a gas-powered engine.

A downside of the gas-powered air compressor is that it produces more noise and that it creates exhaust fumes.

Note that not all gas-driven air compressors are really portable. The bigger units can weight up to 600 bs (300 kg). These units are often installed on trucks or mobile equipment.

How to choose the right capacity and pressure for your new reciprocating air compressor.

Before buying an air compressor, you should know the pressure and capacity that you require.

If you don’t know the pressure or capacity you need, go back to my air compressor buying guide start page where I explain in detail what pressure and what capacity you need. Maybe you find out that a rotary screw compressor is better suited for you!

With reciprocating compressors, it’s always better to buy a (slightly-) bigger air compressor  than you need. As your business and air demand grows, you have some extra capacity that you can use. Reciprocating air compressor don’t mind standing still, so this is not bad for your compressor.

Single-stage and two-stage air compressor buying guides


Single-stage piston air compressor buying guide

Check out my buying guide for single-stage reciprocating (piston) air compressors.

Two-stage piston air compressor buying guide

Check out my buying guide for two-stage reciprocating (piston) air compressors.